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A New Era (2016-2020)

Following the highs of finally tasting T20 Finals Day glory in 2015, on the surface the 2016 campaign seemed a rather quiet one at Emirates Old Trafford.

Despite not being able to reach either of the limited overs quarter-finals and finishing in the lower reaches of the Specsavers County Championship Division One, those at the Club could be forgiven for taking satisfaction from a steady - if unspectacular - red ball campaign which retained Division One status following relegations in 2012 and 2014.

However, the season was remembered for teenage opening batsman Haseeb Hameed bursting onto the scene and smashing several records in scoring 1,000 Championship runs in his first full year of first-team cricket.

He became the first ever teenaged opener in the history of the County Championship to score four hundreds in a season, two of which came in the home draw with Yorkshire which sealed a first senior England call-up for the winter tours to Bangladesh and India.

Hameed also became the youngest Lancastrian to post two hundreds in the same match against any opponent, he became the first to do it against Yorkshire and only the third for either side in that particular fixture.

The red ball season also saw then Head Coach Ashely Giles hand Championship debuts to four homegrown youngsters; Rob Jones, Liam Livingstone, Saqib Mahmood and Matthew Parkinson who all went on to either score hundreds or take a five-for at some point during the campaign.

Despite a relatively subdued season results-wise, several homegrown players were bedded into the side who would go on to make a big impact for the Red Rose in the years to come.

However, an unexpected twist followed that winter, as Giles left the Club in December 2016 to re-join Warwickshire as Sport Director after two years as Director of Cricket and Head Coach at Emirates Old Trafford.

That led to the appointment of two Red Rose legends, Glen Chapple and Mark Chilton, as Head and Assistant Coach.

The duo were both part of the famed Lancashire side which won the Specsavers County Championship in 2011 – with Chapple as Captain – and their experience appeared to inspire the current crop who finished in second place in 2017 following a string of superb performances with the red ball.

Lancashire won five and drew six of their 14 matches, racking up 176 points and had it not been for runaway winners Essex finishing the campaign unbeaten with 10 victories, they would have been firmly in the title picture.

Alongside Shiv Chanderpaul (831 runs), the Championship saw youngsters Alex Davies (916 runs) and Liam Livingstone (803 runs) cement their places in the top-order, while new-signing all-rounder Ryan MacLaren – the Club’s 2017 Player of the Year -  scored 602 runs and claimed 45 wickets.

For all of the positivity taken from the Championship season, there was disappointment with Lancashire’s white ball performances, failing to get out of the group stages in both the NatWest T20 Blast and Royal London One-Day Cup, missing out on a quarter-final place in the latter by just one point.

When Lancashire sit down and reflect on 2018, it is a summer they will want to put behind them quickly. A seventh appearance at T20 Finals Day was the light amidst the gloom of Championship and One-Day disappointment. 

The campaign started with the Red Rose fancied by many to better last season’s second-place finish in Division One, with the additions of Keaton Jennings and Graham Onions from Durham adding firepower to a squad brimming with England Lions or senior international experience. 

Unfortunately, the campaign ended with relegation and a return to Division Two of the Specsavers County Championship. So often throughout a frustrating four-day campaign, when the Red Rose suffered bad sessions, they often cost them the game. And when they played well, they were largely unable to force victory.

The two games against champions Surrey showed that. Lancashire had periods of domination in both, but they were left with a draw at Emirates Old Trafford and a six-run defeat at the Kia Oval under lights against the pink ball. 

Seamers Onions and Tom Bailey were the Red Rose’s standout red-ball performers, both topping the 50-wicket mark, while one other major positive was the late season introduction of fledgling batting all-rounder Josh Bohannon, the 21-year-old hit a debut half-century under lights against champions Surrey at the Oval.

In the following fixture, Bohannon then hit an unbeaten 78 to help Dane Vilas steer a successful pursuit of 314 against Worcester at Southport, but ultimately that victory would not be enough to stave off relegation which was confirmed after being bowled out for 273 by Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl and failing to secure a batting bonus point in the final round of fixtures.

In the Royal London One-Day Cup, Lancashire finished sixth in the North Group with three wins from eight. They were hurt by winning only one of their first four.

Matthew Parkinson impressed in that campaign and was the leading wicket-taker in the competition with 18 from eight appearances, including five wickets on his List A debut for Lancashire against Notts.

Parkinson and Alex Davies were Lancashire’s standout performers in the Vitality Blast run to Finals Day. Davies posted 534 runs, including six fifties - a club record for half-centuries in a campaign, while Parkinson claimed 25 wickets. His haul of wickets was bettered only by Worcester’s Pat Brown with 31.

Brown would take four wickets as Lancashire’s Vitality Blast run came to end in the first semi-final of Finals Day, with a 20-run defeat to eventual winners Worcestershire Rapids.

The Roses double in the T20 at least prevented Yorkshire from taking all the bragging rights, with the White Rose winning both Championship outings and the RL50 clash.

Lancashire’s main objective for 2019 was clear; promotion back to Division One of the Specsavers County Championship as champions. And it was achieved in some style. 

With two games to spare, the Red Rose were ‘back where we belong’ before Dane Vilas and co secured the title in the penultimate round of fixtures.

From beating Middlesex by seven wickets at Lord’s in the opening round of the season in early April, it was a relentless pursuit towards four-day silverware.

With wins came memorable individual performances, perhaps none more so than first year captain Vilas’ stunning career best 266 against Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay, while young players developed at a rate of knots.

Rob Jones impressed greatly in the top order against the red ball, as did Josh Bohannon. His maiden first-team century, the 174 against Derbyshire at Emirates Old Trafford recently - the win which secured promotion - was celebrated with gusto.

Heading into 2019, Lancashire secured the services of Glen Maxwell for significant spells of the summer, across all three formats. Maxwell had a huge effect at Emirates Old Trafford, it wasn’t just his runs, wickets and catches, of which there were plenty, it was his influence around the dressing room.

Promotion was achieved, while the Red Rose also enjoyed progressive campaigns with the white ball.

Saqib Mahmood, whose 2018 had been dogged by injury, was sensational in the early season Royal London One-Day Cup, a competition which saw the Red Rose reach the semi-finals. The highly rated fast bowler claimed 28 wickets, the most by any bowler in the country.

Leg-spinner Matthew Parkinson also shone in the Blast, with his haul of 21 wickets leaving him amongst the most prolific bowlers in the competition. He also ended the season impressively in Championship cricket as well. 

Of course it was a frustration that the RL50 final was a step too far, as it was in the Vitality Blast when we were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Essex Eagles at Durham having topped the North Group table with eight wins from 14 games. But the good feeling had been restored around Emirates Old Trafford.

2020 brought about a different and unexpected challenge, not just for Lancashire and not just in cricket, as large parts of the world headed into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic which took  hold in the UK in March, just weeks before the English County season was due to get underway.

After months without cricket, it was finally agreed that a truncated season would commence on the 1 August with the one-off regionalised Bob Willis Trophy replacing the County Championship, while the Vitality Blast would run into October. All matches were to be played without spectators.

With several players missing after they were called into England’s ‘bio-secure bubble’ in the early part of the season, Lancashire saw fit to blood a number of youngsters across both competitions. In total six players – Tom Hartley, George Balderson, George Burrows, Jack Morley, George Lavelle and Ed Moulton – were handed debuts at First Team level.

In the six team Bob Wills Trophy North Group, Lancashire finished third with two wins and two rain affected draws. But, as had often been the case in previous years, the Red Rose shone with a string of strong performances in the Vitality Blast which led to yet another Finals Day berth.

A second-placed finish in the North Group was followed by a 45-run quarter-final victory over Sussex, but Lancashire’s campaign once again came to an end at the semi-final, for the second time in three seasons, to eventual champions Notts.

Parkinson once again grabbed headlines throughout the tournament, claiming 15 wickets including two in a weather effected 11-over semi-final, but it wasn’t enough to help his side defend 94 as Dan Christian’s brutal 30 fired his side to a five-wicket win.

2020 was a breathless season, which matches crammed into the shortest of windows and played in extraordinary circumstances which are hopefully to never be repeated.

 
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